By Deepti Tanna
When Deepti Tanna felt wronged and betrayed by someone she had helped, her mother patiently taught her the valuable lesson of responding through her values and not her emotions
My first teacher was my grandmother. The second set of teachers was my parents, followed by my school and college teachers. This, I believe, is the case with all of us. We learn most of our life’s lessons from our parents; by observing them over a course of time. As a child, I was labelled highly sensitive, someone who was very touchy about anything said to her. However, neither my parents nor grandmother labelled my behaviour. When my uncle once asked them why they did not correct my crying over every small thing, my father had replied, “I don’t want to make her ignore or suppress her feelings, I want to teach her to acknowledge her emo-tions, and then channelise them.” After three decades of being with my parents, I can acknowledge that they never suppressed any emotion my siblings or I experienced. We were free to emote and express everything that coursed through us – fear of exams, anger at losing a game or a possession, excitement on receiving gifts, sorrow when our visiting cousins left for their home, or happiness when the Indian cricket team won.
We were free to express ourselves freely. One emotion, however, which doesn’t leave me easily is hurt. People who are sensitive would relate to what I say. When angry or hurt we are unable to aggressively express ourselves and instead cry out our emotions in the form of tears. A lot of my friends and cousins advise me, “Deepti, shout, swear, scream, punch the pillow but get it out of your system.” I could never do any of these and found myself even more miserable if I heeded their advice. The biggest hurts have come from my close family members. One such event happened recently when I recommended a cousin sister for a job. She got through, and got her first salary too. I was as elated as she and her family was. For me it was a moment of satisfaction; of having brought joy to a family which had stood strong in the face of all the storms they had been facing for the last 14-16 years. However, I had a stormy experience with my cousin. Both our families met at a family function and after exchanging greetings with the elders and the revered, I excused myself to hang around with other cousins. Suddenly, I saw my mother wiping her eyes with the corner of her beautiful saree. I ran up to her to know the reason. My mother had very casually asked my cousin sister about her job and if she was enjoying the new experiences. What she got in return was a rebuke, “Masi, I don’t think you should interfere in what I do. What I do in my job is confidential and I cannot reveal it to you.” All this in the presence of one of the senior members of the family. My mother felt humiliated for a moment because her intention, was to only ask the cousin if she was doing well in her new job.
Furious with the entire episode, I felt a strong urge to confront my cousin, seek an explanation for this rudeness and explain to her my mother’s side of the story. However, sensing my anger, my mother stopped me from going to her. She diverted my attention swiftly to other guests and got me busy in conversations. Next morning, as the family sat down for breakfast together, I broached the topic again. As discussions grew, both my brother and I became angry again, as we recalled the rudeness of our cousin. Both of us wanted our parents to confront the cousin and convey to her how she had misunderstood our mother. Throughout this conversation, our father chose to remain silent while I continued to coax them, “Dad and Mom, I think you should discuss this matter. This kind of behavior is wrong and we should give her a piece of our minds. Our silence should not be read as our weakness.” My father, a man of few words, and my mother who forgets such things, continued to ignore us and told us to get going with our day. Throughout that day, I couldn’t focus on anything at hand.
The very thought of my mother being insulted by someone who I had helped get a job kept haunting me. I was unable to identify the emotion; was it hurt on account of my cousin’s ungratefulness or was it anger at my mother’s humiliation? That night I cuddled up cozily between my parents like a little child and discussed the matter with them. I shared how this incident had affected me deeply and how they had disregarded it as though nothing had happened. My parents patiently heard me out as I cried, recognising my own emotional disabilities. My mother then said something that has the ability to heal all emotionally vulnerable souls like me. She said, “Deepti, first learn to keep small things small. We encounter people who gift us experiences we feel we don’t deserve and get hurt. We cry over it and then should get over it. Why do you have to keep it in your head for so long? Is it that important? Ask yourself, does your cousin’s behavior change your life in any way? No, it doesn’t. Do we keep things which aren’t of any use to us in our house? Similarly if certain thoughts don’t serve a purpose why let them occupy a place in our mind? I know it is easier said than done, but one needs to train oneself and consciously learn this art of mindful thinking.”
“Secondly, my child,” she continued, “What she did was her nature and an outcome of her upbringing. Has your father or I ever trained you to correct people when they react out of their ignorance? Your nature should be independent of what someone else does. Our response should be a product of our values, not of someone else’s actions and thoughts. As human beings we have the power to choose our responses.” She continued, “Just like you, your cousin too is our child. As we have allowed you the liberty to express, we have given her too the same liberty. When the time comes, I will explain to her why I had asked her what I had asked, and that I didn’t mean to infringe upon professional principles of integrity. Explaining this to her in the presence of other family members wasn’t the right thing for me to do, as there wouldn’t then have been any difference between her and me.” As I slept with these thoughts that night, I realised how each of us is different and how each one of us is free to choose if we want to evolve as human beings or stay stagnant. I realised that the happiness I felt after helping her and the misery I felt when she insulted my mother were my choices. And my choosing to not let go of that experience was giving it power over me, and hampering my productivity as well as my peace of mind. That night I slept, resolving to let small things be small, and focus my attention on the present moment.
Based in Pune, Deepti Tanna Rajvir is a CA by profession, who keeps her right brain active through working on art, poetry and stories.
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